Raising Expectations – July 2010

According to a prominent new study, Arizona is winning a race, not to the top but to the bottom: we are about to lead the nation in jobs for high school dropouts. To reverse this dangerous trend, the state must reshape its higher education system to attract, serve and graduate more college students.

The study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce tells us that Arizonans are at-risk of being locked out of the middle class. It predicts that Arizona will have enough jobs for high school dropouts, but soon we will be woefully deficient in the number of college graduates needed to fill the high-wage, modern jobs that businesses demand.

What may be most concerning about this report is that it speaks to a persistent mediocrity in our state. Already, 45 percent of Arizona’s high school students do not pursue any form of higher education after high school – the lowest rate among 50 states. Only 25 percent of Arizonans hold bachelor’s degrees.

While it may be easy to find a job in Arizona with just a high school diploma, the new middle class is being defined by college degree holders who are in a better position to sustain a family and grow their income.

Arizona’s residents can aspire to a higher quality of life and the state’s public higher education system is improving how it helps students achieve that dream.

Under way right now is a collaborative effort called “Getting AHEAD – Access to Higher Education And Degrees,” which will improve access to higher education for students across the state.  We are developing new and progressive partnerships between the state’s community colleges and the three public universities to allow more residents to complete a bachelor’s degree at a lower cost without ever leaving their home county.

We’re enhancing a student-centered, online advising portal – AZTransfer.com – to help plan academic careers from high school to community college to university. We’re also improving the credit transfer process so students can reliably carry their community college credits and/or an associate’s degree program into a bachelor’s degree program.

Finally, we’re exploring new ways to manage funding and governance among Arizona’s public community colleges and universities so that college is more accessible and affordable no matter what your age or circumstance.

As leaders of Arizona’s higher education system, we believe education is the agent that delivers a better quality of life. The mix and quality of workforce skills of our state residents are directly linked to our ability to move out of this economic recession. While our economy requires all types of workers and skill sets, more Arizonans must complete college degrees in order for business and our economy to grow. Only then can Arizona can move ahead.

Dr. Rufus Glasper is chancellor of the Maricopa County Community Colleges District, and Regent Fred DuVal is Vice Chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. Both serve as co-chairman of “Getting AHEAD – Access to Higher Education And Degrees,” a comprehensive initiative to reshape Arizona’s post-secondary education system and encourage more residents to complete college degrees.

Arizona One of 19 Finalists In Second Round of Race to the Top Grant Dollars

Arizona is one of only 19 states whose application for the second round of federal Race to the Top funds was selected as a finalist.  Thirty-six states and District of Columbia were competing for education monies under the $4 billion program.  Created under the Obama administration’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA), Race to the Top is geared toward challenging the states to implement ambitious, yet achievable and innovative approaches to improving education.  Dollars are overseen and administered by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) under Secretary Arne Duncan.

Thus far, two states – Delaware and Tennessee – have won Race to the Top funds in round one of the competition and awarded a combined $600 million over four years.   It is feasible the USDOE could choose several winners in the second round, as much of the ARRA Race to the Top funds remain unallocated.

“With $3.4 billion still available, we’re providing plenty of opportunity for all other states to develop plans and aggressively pursue reform,” said Duncan.

Arizona’s application in round one scored low, rating 40th out of the 41 applications.  However, Arizona State Board of Education president Dr. Vicki Balentine says the feedback from reviewers and the opportunity to see what the winners submitted will help Arizona this time around.

“I think this second application will showcase some of the innovative efforts that have been put in place in Arizona,” said Balentine, who also serves as superintendent of Amphitheater Public Schools in Tucson.  “A few examples include alternative certification options for teachers and state intervention with positive results in persistently low performing schools.”

Education policy expert Becky Hill, of Hill Advocacy, says Arizona’s chances of winning funds in the second round are greater now because many of the state’s most substantive reforms were still not finalized as law when the first round was scored early this year.  “The document is both an application and a long-term plan.  Putting it in writing, using the second round opportunity to fine tune the details and build consensus will be key to its success,” she said.  “Community and education leaders alike believe the application can serve as a guidepost for improving education in the years to come.”

Applicants are being scored on their collaborative efforts, unique approaches to making improvements in education and other criteria.  Awards for the second phase are expected to be announced in late August or early September.  In addition to Arizona, the remaining finalists include: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

According to the USDOE, Race to the Top is intended to help the country achieve the following:

  • Adopt standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Build data systems that measure student growth and success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruit, develop, reward and retain effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turn around the nation’s lowest-achieving schools.

Click here to view Arizona’s application.

School Finance 101: Funding Arizona Schools – Information, Implications and Issues (Part One of Two)

By Susan Carlson, Executive Director, Arizona Business and Education Coalition

We know that funding in schools is in crisis right now. We know that funding is related to property taxes and that in every election cycle there seems to be a budget override question on the ballot.  But did you know that how much money is allocated to each school district is based on a formula created 30 years ago?

Much has changed in Arizona since then.  Not only has Arizona grown, the number of students in our schools has skyrocketed and the needs of today’s students are rapidly changing.   The Arizona Business & Education Coalition has examined the current system to see if it meets the needs of our 21st Century learners and is proposing a set of ideas that could transform how we fund our schools and educate our children.

While school finance can be complicated, here is a scaled-down explanation of how the current system works:  school districts are funded by property tax and appropriations through the state general fund. In some communities, property values can support the funding level on their own, but for most, the funding level is made equal by adding monies from the state’s general fund.  The taxes are levied by the state and collected by the county. The property tax funds are then distributed to school districts based on information submitted by that school district, detailing the number of students and their characteristics (such as administrative and transportation costs, number on federal reduced and free lunch programs and other data) in that district.  It is this formula that determines the spending limit for each district, and the funds are allocated to the schools through the local school district’s budget process and approved by the local boards of education.

Why we should care: The issues buried within this school finance discussion are complex and sometimes difficult to understand. But they are at the heart of public votes and many negotiations at the state Capitol. They affect our neighborhood schools and our classroom teachers, our children’s education and our own, personal pocketbooks.

When crafting the now decades-old school funding formula, no one could have foreseen the challenges we face today.  Our children will be expected to compete globally and on a much more sophisticated level. They will exit a school system either prepared for postsecondary education or needing remediation; either prepared for the work of the 21st century – or competing with others for a shrinking number of entry-level jobs that have no future.  We all should care about paying for an educational system that is effective for every child in Arizona.

What we need for the future:  We are at a crossroads as we consider the classroom of the future and what our students will need to know to succeed.  Don’t we owe it to our children to find common ground on the tough issues of how we fund our schools and what we want our children to know and be able to do for their futures?  And while we know “throwing more money at education” will not affect positive change, research shows us that putting more money toward effective practices does make a difference.

Arizona Adopts Common Core Standards for Math and Language Arts Education

Earlier this summer, the Arizona State Board of Education adopted a set of Common Core State Standards, compiled by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center).  The standards, intended to articulate what is expected of students at every grade level, were drafted by participants from 48 states (only Alaska and Texas declined to participate), two U.S. territories and the District of Columbia from the public and private sector and incorporated the feedback of representatives from businesses, schools, government entities, content area experts and parents.

“This action was an important one for our state, and will have an impact in our classrooms,” said Cheryl J. Lebo, Associate Superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education’s Standards and Assessment Division.  “It will influence all future standards and assessment planning and operations. While these standards will not be assessed for a few years to allow for full implementation in our state’s schools, the goals are set and work is underway.”

Utilizing best practices from states and other countries, the Common Core Standards include skills that high school students need to master in order to graduate adequately prepared to enter and succeed in college.  The criteria used to develop the standards – applicable to K-12 and career and college readiness – needed to be:

  • Aligned with college and work expectations
  • Challenging in terms of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills
  • Built upon strengths and lessons of current state standards
  • Informed by top-performing countries, to enable students to compete globally
  • Based on evidence and/or research

In addition to laying the groundwork for necessary skills, the Standards require certain critical content for all students.  In language arts, this includes integrating classic myths and stories from around the world, our country’s founding documents, foundational American literature and the works of Shakespeare.  In mathematics, the Standards require a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals, demanding that students master these areas to prepare them to tackle increasingly challenging mathematical concepts for high school and college.

“Technology is becoming so advanced now that we cannot even imagine how different and complex it will be in 20 years,” said Jacob Moore, vice president of the Arizona State Board of Education.  “Establishing common core standards that are rigorous and consistent with other states will help students, teachers and parents anticipate and prepare for higher expectations. Mastery of the standards will enable students to graduate high school college and career ready, providing them the opportunity to succeed and compete globally.”

Although adopting the standards is voluntary, it is strongly encouraged for states competing in the Race to the Top competition for federal grant dollars to improve education.

For more information on the Common Core Standards and to view a full copy of the document, visit www.CoreStandards.org.

Arizona Slips In Education Investment Rankings to 49th in Nation

A new federal survey finds Arizona continues to rank near the bottom of the list in terms of public dollars invested in education, slipping from 48th in the previous year’s report to 49th in the latest data compilation of school finances from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Using data from 2008, the most recent available of the nation’s more than 15,000 public school systems, the report found Arizona spends the third lowest amount per student from among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  In the 2007 report, the average invested nationally was $9,666, with Arizona’s expenditures at $7,196.

The annual data report found the states and Washington, D.C. spend more than $10,000 per student on average and that dollar amounts increased at a lower percentage from the prior year’s report.  Arizona, meanwhile, averages just $7,608 per student, barely outspending Idaho (50th at $6,931) and Utah (51st at $5,765).   Since the report used data from 2008, it does not yet reflect the last two years of budget cuts.

Released in late June from data sets of public elementary and secondary schools, Public Education Finances:  2008 found the states investing the most per pupil were New York ($17,713, also the highest in 2007), New Jersey ($16,491, retaining the number two spot from the previous report) and Alaska ($14,630).

Overall, public schools received more than $582 billion in funding in 2008, up 4.5% from 2007.  Of that, state governments contributed the most (48.3%), with local sources accounting for 43.7% and federal monies providing the remainder (8.1%).

For more on what goes into financing schools in Arizona, click on our School Financing 101 story in this issue of Raising Expectations.